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Beyond the door in the rocks, behind the walls of Hell, was a twenty-foot-wide area that had once been crowded with machinery. It was now littered with the bolts and steel plates on which those machines had been mounted. Elaborate scaffolding, festooned with spider webs, rose forty or fifty feet; it provided access to other doors and crawlspaces and panels through which the complex lighting and effects equipment—cold-steam generators, lasers—had been serviced. That stuff was gone now, stripped out and carted away.

How long did he need to cut the girl open, seize her beating heart, and take his satisfaction from her death? One minute? Two? Perhaps no more than that. To keep her safe, they had to breathe down his goddamned neck.

Lindsey swept her flashlight beam across that spider-infested conglomeration of steel pipes and elbow joints and tread plates. She quickly decided their quarry had not ascended to any hiding place above.

Hatch was at her side and slightly behind her, staying close.

They were breathing hard, not because they had exerted themselves but because their chests were tight with fear, constricting their lungs.

Turning left, Lindsey moved straight toward a dark opening in the concrete-block wall on the far side of that twenty-foot-wide chamber. She was drawn to it because it appeared to have been boarded over at one time, not solidly but with enough planks to prevent anyone entering the forbidden space beyond without effort. Some of the nails still prickled the block walls on both sides of the opening, but all of the planks had been torn away and shoved to one side on the floor.

Although Hatch whispered her name, warning her to hold back, she stepped straight to the brink of that room, shone her light into it, and discovered it was not a room at all but an elevator shaft. The doors, cab, cables, and mechanism had been salvaged, leaving a hole in the building as sure as an extracted tooth left a hole in the jaw.

She pointed her light up. The shaft rose three stories, having once conveyed mechanics and other repairmen to the top of the funhouse. She swung the beam slowly down the concrete wall from above, noticing the iron rungs of the service ladder.

Hatch stepped in beside her as the light found its way to the bottom of the shaft, just two floors below, where it revealed some litter, a Styrofoam ice chest, several empty cans of root beer, and a plastic garbage bag nearly full of trash, all arranged around a stained and battered mattress.

On the mattress, huddled in a corner of the shaft, was Jeremy Nyebern. Regina was in his lap, held against his chest, so she could shield him against gunfire. He was holding a pistol, and he squeezed off two shots even as Lindsey spotted him down there.

The first slug missed both her and Hatch, but the second round tore through her shoulder. She was knocked against the door frame. On the rebound, she bent forward involuntarily, lost her balance, and fell into the shaft, following her flashlight, which she had already dropped.

Going down, she didn't believe it was happening. Even when she hit bottom, landing on her left side, the whole thing seemed unreal, maybe because she was still too numb from the impact of the bullet to feel the damage it had done, and maybe because she fell mostly on the mattress, at the far end of it from Nyebern, knocking out what wind the slug had left in her but breaking no bones.

Her flashlight had also landed on the mattress, unharmed. It lit one gray wall.

As if in a dream, and though unable to get her breath quite yet, Lindsey brought her right hand slowly around to point her gun at him. But she had no gun. The Browning had spun from her grip in the fall.

During Lindsey's drop, Nyebern must have tracked her with his own weapon, for she was looking into it. The barrel was impossibly long, measuring exactly one eternity from firing chamber to muzzle.

Beyond the gun she saw Regina's face, which was as slack as her gray eyes were empty, and beyond that beloved countenance was the hateful one, pale as milk. His eyes, unshielded by glasses, were fierce and strange. She could see them even though the glow of the flashlight forced him to squint. Meeting his gaze she felt that she was face-to-face with something alien that was only passing as human, and not well.

Oh, wow, surreal, she thought, and knew that she was on the verge of passing out.

She hoped to faint before he squeezed the trigger. Though it didn't matter, really. She was so close to the gun that she wouldn't live to hear the shot that blew her face off.

Hatch's horror, as he watched Lindsey fall into the shaft, was exceeded by his surprise at what he did next.

When he saw Jeremy track her with the pistol until she hit the mattress, the muzzle three feet from her face, Hatch tossed his own Browning away, onto the pile of planks that once boarded off the shaft. He figured he wouldn't be able to get off a clear shot with Regina in the way. And he knew that no gun would properly dispatch the thing that Jeremy had become. He had no time to wonder at that curious thought, for as soon as he pitched away the Browning, he shifted the crucifix-flashlight from his left hand to his right, and leaped into the elevator shaft without any expectation that he was about to do so.

After that, everything got weird.

It seemed to him that he didn't crash down the shaft as he should have done, but glided in slow motion, as if he were only slightly heavier than air, taking as much as half a minute to reach bottom.

Perhaps his sense of time had merely been distorted by the profundity of his terror.

Jeremy saw him coming, shifted the pistol from Lindsey to Hatch, and fired all eight remaining rounds. Hatch was certain that he was hit at least three or four times, though he sustained no wounds. It seemed impossible that the killer could miss so often in such a confined space.

Perhaps the sloppy marksmanship was attributable to the gunman's panic and to the fact that Hatch was a moving target.

While he was still floating down like dandelion fluff, he experienced a reconnection of the peculiar bond between him and Nyebern, and for a moment he saw himself descending from the young killer's point of view. What he glimpsed, however, was not only himself but the image of someone—or something—superimposed over him, as if he shared his body with another entity. He thought he saw white wings folded close against his sides. Under his own face was that of a stranger—the visage of a warrior if ever there had been one, yet not a face that frightened him.

Perhaps by then Nyebern was hallucinating, and what Hatch was receiving from him was not actually what he saw but only what he imagined that he saw. Perhaps.

Then Hatch was gazing down from his own eyes again, still in that slow glide, and he was sure that he saw something superimposed over Jeremy Nyebern, too, a form and face that were part reptilian and part insectile.

Perhaps it was a trick of light, the confusion of shadows and conflicting flashlight beams.

He could not explain away their final exchange, however, and he dwelt upon it often in the days that followed:

“Who are you?” Nyebern asked as Hatch landed catlike in spite of a thirty-foot descent.

“Uriel,” Hatch replied, though that was not a name he had heard before.

“I am Vassago,” Nyebern said.

“I know,” Hatch said, though he was hearing that name for the first time, as well.

“Only you can send me back.”

“And when you get sent back by such as me,” Hatch said, wondering where the words came from, “you don't go back a prince. You'll be a slave below, just like the heartless and stupid boy with whom you hitched a ride.”

Nyebern was afraid. It was the first time he had shown any capacity for fear. “And I thought I was the spider.”

With strength, agility, and economy of motion that Hatch had not known he possessed, he grabbed Regina's belt in his left hand, pulled her away from Jeremy Nyebern, set her aside out of harm's way, and brought the crucifix down like a club upon the madman's head. The lens of the attached flashlight shattered, and the casing burst open, spilling batteries. He chopped the crucifix hard against the killer's skull a second time, and with the third blow he sent Nyebern to a grave that had been twice earned.

The anger Hatch felt was righteous anger. When he dropped the crucifix, when it was all over, he felt no guilt or shame. He was nothing at all like his father.

He had a strange awareness of a power leaving him, a presence he had not realized was there. He sensed a mission accomplished, balance restored. All things were now in their rightful places.

Regina was unresponsive when he spoke to her. Physically she seemed unharmed. Hatch was not worried about her, for somehow he knew that none of them would suffer unduly for having been caught up in … whatever they had been caught up in.

Lindsey was unconscious and bleeding. He examined her wound and felt it was not too serious.

Voices arose two floors above. They were calling his name. The authorities had arrived. Late as always. Well, not always. Sometimes … one of them was there just when you needed him.


The apocryphal story of the three blind men examining the elephant is widely known. The first blind man feels only the elephant's trunk and thereafter confidently describes the beast as a great snakelike creature, similar to a python. The second blind man feels only the elephant's ears and announces that it is a bird that can soar to great heights. The third blind man examines only the elephant's fringe-tipped, fly-chasing tail and “sees” an animal that is curiously like a bottle brush.

So it is with any experience that human beings share. Each participant perceives it in a different way and takes from it a different lesson than do his or her compatriots.

In the years following the events at the abandoned amusement park, Jonas Nyebern lost interest in resuscitation medicine. Other men took over his work and did it well.

He sold at auction every piece of religious art in the two collections that he had not yet completed, and he put the money in savings instruments that would return the highest possible rate of interest.

Though he continued to practice cardiovascular surgery for a while, he no longer found any satisfaction in it. Eventually he retired young and looked for a new career in which to finish out the last decades of his life.

He stopped attending Mass. He no longer believed that evil was a force in itself, a real presence that walked the world. He had learned that humanity itself was a source of evil sufficient to explain everything that was wrong with the world. Obversely, he decided humanity was its own—and only—salvation.

He became a veterinarian. Every patient seemed deserving.

He never married again.

He was neither happy nor unhappy, and that suited him fine.

Regina remained within her inner room for a couple of days, and when she came out she was never quite the same. But then no one ever is quite the same for any length of time. Change is the only constant. It's called growing up.

She addressed them as Dad and Mom, because she wanted to, and because she meant it. Day by day, she gave them as much happiness as they gave her.

She never set off a chain reaction of destruction among their antiques. She never embarrassed them by getting inappropriately sentimental, bursting into tears, and thereby activating the old snot faucet; she unfailingly produced tears and snot only when they were called for. She never mortified them by accidentally flipping an entire plate of food into the air at a restaurant and over the head of the President of the United States at the next table. She never accidentally set the house on fire, never farted in polite company, and never scared the bejesus out of smaller neighborhood children with her leg brace and curious right hand. Better still, she stopped worrying about doing all those things (and more), and in time she did not even recall the tremendous energies that she once had wasted upon such unlikely concerns.

She kept writing. She got better at it. When she was just fourteen, she won a national writing competition for teenagers. The prize was a rather nice watch and a check for five hundred dollars. She used some of the money for a subscription to Publishers Weekly and a complete set of the novels of William Makepeace Thackeray. She no longer had an interest in writing about intelligent pigs from outer space, largely because she was learning that more curious characters could be found all around her, many of them native Californians.

She no longer talked to God. It seemed childish to chatter at Him. Besides, she no longer needed His constant attention. For a while she had thought He had gone away or had never existed, but she had decided that was foolish. She was aware of Him all the time, winking at her from the flowers, serenading her in the song of a bird, smiling at her from the furry face of a kitten, touching her with a soft summer breeze. She found a line in a book that she thought was apt, from Dave Tyson Gentry: “True friendship comes when silence between two people is comfortable.” Well, who was your best friend, if not God, and what did you really need to say to Him or He to you when you both already knew the most—and only—important thing, which was that you would always be there for each other.

Lindsey came through the events of those days less changed than she had expected. Her paintings improved somewhat, but not tremendously. She had never been dissatisfied with her work in the first place. She loved Hatch no less than ever, and could not possibly have loved him more.

One thing that made her cringe, which never had before, was hearing anyone say, “The worst is behind us now.” She knew that the worst was never behind us. The worst came at the end. It was the end, the very fact of it. Nothing could be worse than that. But she had learned to live with the understanding that the worst was never behind her—and still find joy in the day at hand.

As for God—she didn't dwell on the issue. She raised Regina in the Catholic Church, attending Mass with her each week, for that was part of the promise she had made St. Thomas's when they had arranged the adoption. But she didn't do it solely out of duty. She figured that the Church was good for Regina—and that Regina might be good for the Church, too. Any institution that counted Regina a member was going to discover itself changed by her at least as much as she was changed—and to its everlasting benefit. She had once said that prayers were never answered, that the living lived only to die, but she had progressed beyond that attitude. She would wait and see.

Hatch continued to deal successfully in antiques. Day by day his life went pretty much as he hoped it would. As before, he was an easy-going guy. He never got angry. But the difference was that he had no anger left in him to repress. The mellowness was genuine now.

From time to time, when the patterns of life seemed to have a grand meaning that just barely eluded him, and when he was therefore in a philosophical mood, he would go to his den and take two items from the locked drawer.

One was the heat-browned issue of Arts American.

The other was a slip of paper he had brought back from the library one day, after doing a bit of research. Two names were written on it, with an identifying line after each. “Vassago—according to mythology, one of the nine crown princes of Hell.” Below that was the name he had once claimed was his own: “Uriel—according to mythology, one of the archangels serving as a personal attendant to God.”